Moments after authorities say Rodney Davis stabbed his elderly mother to death Monday afternoon, he ran 10 blocks to his girlfriend’s house, where Duquesne police found him and charged him in Marguerite Davis’ death.
His girlfriend, Lynale Petty, 56, said she was upstairs with a cable-television technician when Mr. Davis, 56, arrived at her home on South Sixth Street. He did not mention the violent encounter and his clothes weren’t bloody, she said in an interview on her front porch Tuesday.
But later, at Allegheny County Police headquarters, authorities said, Mr. Davis confessed. As an argument escalated in their South Second Street home, Mr. Davis reported, his mother struck his hand. He then hit her over the head with a vodka bottle before stabbing her repeatedly with kitchen knives, according to police.
Ms. Davis was found about 3 p.m. Monday on her kitchen floor with two knives stuck in her torso. Another son, Anthony Davis, pulled the knives out before shouting to a friend to call 911, police said. Anthony Davis said he had left the house about 90 minutes earlier to go to the store for his mother, who was 79 and relied on a walker to get around.
Neighbors described Ms. Davis as a community matriarch, often seen sitting on her front porch, always with a wide smile.
The stabbing left neighbors wondering what had gone wrong between the friendly elderly woman and her troubled adult son, who lived with her. Neighbor George Owens said he could not sleep Monday night, wracked by grief and confusion. A few hours before the stabbing, he saw Ms. Davis smiling on her front porch, he said, an image he cannot reconcile with the grizzly details of her death.
“All up and down this street, everybody loved her,” said Mr. Owens, 78, who has lived nearby for 21 years. “It’s like you can’t trust anyone now -- even your own family.”
Ms. Davis graduated from Duquesne High School in the late 1950s, said John Gooden, another neighbor. Shortly thereafter, she married James Davis, who died about a decade ago, said Mr. Gooden, 80, who attended school with the couple. Neighbors said Ms. Davis worked as a nurse’s aide at UPMC McKeesport before retiring more than 15 years ago. The hospital could not immediately provide details of her employment.
She was a mother to seven -- four boys and three girls -- but cared for all the children in the neighborhood, said Johnny Coward, who grew up playing football and baseball with the Davis kids.
“It takes a village -- that’s the right expression,” he said. “She was everybody’s mother.”
Mr. Coward, who lives next door to the Davis home, said she took in her son after he had left a number of living arrangements, first at the Burns Heights housing complex and then at Truman Towers senior housing. He said Rodeny Davis once worked in a steel mill but estimated that he had not been employed for decades.
Several neighbors, as well as his brother Anthony, said Rodney Davis suffered from mental illness and drank heavily. Mr. Coward described mood swings and screaming fits, though no one could say with certainty the nature of his problems. He largely kept to himself, Mr. Coward added, except when offered a drink: “You’d have a can, and he’d finish a whole case.”
Court records show that McKeesport police cited Mr. Davis for “public drunkenness and similar conduct” in June 2013, but the case is listed as inactive and its outcome could not be learned Tuesday..
“He’s just crazy,” Anthony Davis, 48, said of his older brother.
Lueana Coward, 55, said it was widely known that Ms. Davis’ son was not well. He would disappear for days at a time, Ms. Coward said, only to reappear intoxicated. She said she once drove to a hospital to retrieve him for Ms. Davis.
“She knew Rod was loose, but she was a mother trying to hold onto her kid,” said Ms. Coward, Johnny Coward’s sister. She grew up in Duquesne but now lives in McKeesport. She said Ms. Davis was a skilled cook who liked to watch TV. Above all, she valued companionship, Ms. Coward said. But Mr. Coward said Ms. Davis was afraid of her son: She frequently phoned him late at night, saying she heard noises outside.
Ms. Petty said her boyfriend did not share with her the details of his hardships, though she knew he was “dangerous” -- the reason she would not let him live with her. The pair have a son, Calvin James Petty, who Ms. Petty said is 34.
Family members gathered Monday evening outside of the grey-green clapboard house, bowing their heads in a prayer circle as police secured the scene. Family members were not present Tuesday. Reached by phone, a daughter, Ira Davis, said the family was grieving but declined to say more.
Isaac Stanley-Becker: email@example.com or 412-263-3775. Twitter: @isb_isaac. Liz Navratil contributed.